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Zachary Solov, 81; Dancer and Opera Troupe Choreographer

Times Staff Writer

Zachary Solov, a ballet dancer and former chief choreographer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, died Nov. 6 in New York City. He was 81.

He had been hospitalized after a heart attack and died at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, according to Dean Temple, who is writing Solov’s authorized biography.

As ballet master for the Metropolitan Opera from 1951 to 1958, Solov gave the company’s dance troupe greater visibility -- choreographing scenes in operas such as “Carmen” and “Aida.” He also hired the troupe’s first African American ballerina, Janet Collins.

He created dances with style and flair, Temple said, adding that “pieces Zachary choreographed were intensely lively and technically demanding.”

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Solov was trained in tap as well as ballet, and moved easily between classical dance and stage shows throughout his career. He performed on Broadway and on popular television programs.

“At that time, versatility like his was typical,” Temple said. “The difference was that Zachary understood all aspects of theater. He knew stage direction, dance and music.”

Solov was born in Philadelphia, one of three children. Both his parents were deaf. The effect on Solov was apparent.

“To the end of his days, Zachary spoke with his hands,” Temple said. “There was a strong physical component to everything about him.”

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A born performer, Solov began as a tap dancer in vaudeville shows and became a regular on a children’s radio show at about age 11. He spent his teens as a student at the Littlefield Ballet School. When his teachers, Catherine and Dorothie Littlefield, formed the Littlefield Ballet in the late 1930s, Solov was one of the troupe’s first members.

He moved to New York City in 1940 and studied at the School of American Ballet, which was founded by choreographer George Balanchine with Lincoln Kirstein. The following year they sent Solov on tour to South America with their American Ballet Caravan. He also appeared regularly at the Roxy Theater in New York City in the 1940s, where he partnered with entertainer Carmen Miranda.

Drafted into the Army in 1943 during World War II, Solov was assigned to Special Services and stationed in the Pacific theater. He choreographed 35 shows for the troops before completing his military service in 1946.

He then joined Lucia Chase’s Ballet Theater, touring the U.S. and England with the troupe.

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The year Solov became chief choreographer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, he also danced in the Broadway show “Along Fifth Avenue,” which starred Jackie Gleason and Viola Essen, an actress and dancer.

Through the 1950s, Solov adapted Metropolitan Opera productions for “Omnibus,” a culture-oriented television program, and often danced on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and “The Fred Allen Show.”

After leaving the Metropolitan Opera, Solov formed his own troupe, the Zachary Solov Dance Ensemble, and choreographed ballets for other companies, including San Francisco Opera.

He is survived by his sister, Sylvia Rosenfeld of Philadelphia.

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